Tuesday, 27 August 2013

World Champs Sprint, from 1st to 5th to DSQ

What started out as a really good race went wrong in two ways that should never happen.

We arrived at quarantine in the morning before the 11am cut off. Quickly finding a corner to call 'home' for a few hours. I spent the first hour wandering around, looking at the start chute, start kite and focussing my mind on the task ahead.

By the time the warm up came around I was feeling nervous and excited but most importantly focussed on the map and techniques I would need. I was 6th last starter so I knew my result wouldn't change hugely at the finish, but it all depended on the coming 21 mins.

The course layout was entirely as expected with the first controls heading to the specially mown area, which we knew from the team leaders last night would be technical riding and navigationally hard. The course then went for a loop around the ski slopes, going to the top twice to get in the 50m climb the course had. As predicted it then came back through the mown area of tracks to the spectator control before the final loop.

I took the first three controls map memory based on the 1 min with the map at the start. The technical mown area proving challenging at speed but somehow instinct and memory guided me to the controls smoothly. On the way up to the third I looked again at the coming legs, and pulled a 10 sec lead to the first radio control. By the spectator I was a few seconds behind in 2nd but I had just started having 'undiagnosed' bike problems.

Most people are familiar with that flat rear tyre feeling, a slightly spongey feeling that's mildly uncontrollable and feels like the bike is 'snaking' the softer it gets. I had this feeling, but I couldn't see that the rear tyre was flat. I carried on riding being a little distracted by the 'snaking' bike. I knew I just had to get to the finish. Checking the front tyre while pedalling: nope, not flat. I started to think the back wheel might have some loose, or the almost-over-the-handlebars incident on the way 4 had broken the frame.

I took the left most route choice to one control, trying to stay with the narrow 1mm gap between the building and temporary OOB area, 7.5m on the ground. In the final 1km the snaking bike became so bad I lost 45 seconds, narrowly missing a pedestrian on a corner I couldn't take and being fairly out of control on any small bend/uneven surface.

On finishing I was announced as 5th. I checked the tyres but still they were fine. I had no idea what the problem was until HJ jumped on and realised the handlebars had come loose. Despite 5th being my second best WOC result and the initial 1/2 the course showing I am fast enough and navigating well, I couldn't help but be disapointed to be 5th. Even when the final results came in confirming the 5th place, I was still annoyed to lose the fight for medals by a mechanical that just shouldn't happen. I even have no idea how, as I've been riding all week without any issue.

As it turned out, the narrow gap on the map was bad printing and 60 or so athletes have been DSQ'd for going out of bounds. Initially I wasn't on the Event Advisors list of athletes, but while querying the problem I saw I was on the marshals two lists so I corrected the error. A 1 mm gap on the map is 7.5m on the ground at this scale and it's not the athletes fault for the problem. A combination of bad printing and lack of clarity at the team meeting has led the situation arising. One or two athletes doing this and the problem is clearly theirs. But 60 or so? I think the situation also shows the need for MTBO to have definitive map printing guidelines and possibly look at approved printers similar to foot-o standards. An issue like this at a high level competition that has been very well organised really shouldn't occur.

To be honest, I'm okay with the DSQ as I don't feel the 5th place did my performance justice today. I had such a navigationally clean race - bar a 20 second error and the OOB area, but the bike problem just devalued the performance for me. But the split times and my general riding and speed are good indictors for the coming races.

But on a positive note the map was generally good and the courses generally excellent. They were a good balance between urban and non-urban, so it's disappointing the day can end as it has. Fortunately the best woman won on the day and the medals for women were unaffected.